Apple devotees waiting in line to purchase the Apple iPhone 5 outside the Fifth Avenue flagship store on the first morning it went on sale.

The commercial success of Apple’s iPhone 5 may indicate that Apple is taking over the world, but the world is fighting back.  While over a thousand people lined up at Apple’s 5th Avenue store to buy the new iPhone on Friday, litigants are lining up to stake their claim against the technology giant.  Apple is dealing with disputes from South Korea, China, and now, potentially Switzerland.

Samsung, a South Korean corporation and purveyor of Google’s Android phones, has accepted Apple’s challenge to engage in worldwide patent warfare as the two battle for the top spot in the smartphone market.  Though Apple may have started the fight in an attempt to reduce competition, Samsung and other competitors are digging deep into their patent files and fighting back with all they have.  In August alone, sometimes Samsung won, as they did in Japan, and sometimes they lost—one billion dollars—as they did in California.  Even when Samsung had the home court advantage, South Korea walked a neutral line, deciding that Apple violated two of Samsung’s patents while Samsung violated one of Apple’s.  The Seoul Central District Court awarded small damages to both companies and banned infringing smartphones and tablets.  With the release of the iPhone 5, Samsung stated it anticipates filing a motion to amend its infringement contentions to add this as an accused product.  However, Samsung clearly feels that it is acting defensively.  They stated, “Apple continues to take aggressive legal measures that will limit market competition.  Under these circumstances, we have little choice but to take the steps necessary to protect our innovations and intellectual property rights.”

In China, Apple has a history of patent dispute issues that could potentially get worse.  In July, Apple reached a settlement agreement with Proview to transfer the iPad trademark in China to Apple in exchange for $60 million.  Proview had trademarked “IPAD,” the “internet personal access device,” and still owned the trademark even though it was no longer producing IPADs.  Apple purchased Proview’s IPAD trademark in several countries in 2009, but Proview’s China branch said they never agreed to transfer the Chinese trademark.  Though many say that Apple was lucky and could have been required to pay much more, this settlement opened the door to challenges from other companies.  In fact, some such “piggyback” challenges have already arisen.  As one commenter noted, “[t]here is virtually no limit to the number of Chinese companies that could have legitimate claims against Apple trademarks. What will happen when they hear about these lawsuits?”

Even peaceful Switzerland wants in on the fun.  SBB, Switzerland’s national railway, alleged that Apple’s new clock design featured in iOS 6 infringes on the iconic clock design in SBB stations.  SBB has not run to the courts yet and is instead seeking an amicable, out of court agreement with Apple.  SBB is emphasizing that they are not seeking money, and are in fact flattered that such a high-profile company has picked up their design, and instead seek a contract that puts limits and conditions on the logo’s use.

As another tech giant, Bill Gates, said: “with great wealth comes great responsibility.”  The success of Apple’s products—and the aggressive tactics of its own legal department—are attracting the attention of companies all over the world and they are now holding Apple responsible for its patent and trademark infringements.  How Apple sets the stage with these earlier cases might affect the volume of challenges they face in the future as well as public perception of the company – as litigious or cooperative.

AM

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2 Responses to Everyone Wants a Bite of the Apple

  1. Niels Melius says:

    Well, you know this is serious if Switzerland is in on the action! There’s certainly been a recent wave of negative press regarding software patents, but Judge Posner’s opinion aside, they’re the law of the land. Rather than tossing out the baby with the bathwater by overturning Supreme Court precedent, perhaps we should focus our energies on rooting out frivolous patent suits, such as by targeting troll-like behavior through fee shifting.

  2. Erin Frankrone says:

    Beyond the legal battles described above, it seems like techies and developers have found a way to have some fun with patent issues. A former programer at Oracle, now turned blogger, described that he and his peers perceived software patenting to be a literal and figurative joke. The Oracle programmers developed their own contest to see who could patent the most ridiculous software “innovation.” (Read about it at http://www.zdnet.com/blog/burnette/why-software-patents-are-a-joke-literally/2039).

    Judge Posner similarly appreciated the laughable quality of current software battles when he arranged to be assigned to a lower court to rule on an Apple suit agains Google regarding various smartphone patents, including the ability to swipe across the screen. His decision to dismiss the case with prejudice described at least some of Apple’s legal arguments as “silly.”

    While it’s easy to point blame at the software corporations and their lawyers for the overwhelming litigation in the IP arena (some of which is surely valid, much of which probably is not), I wonder if it may not be a better idea to put pressure on the Pattent Office to change their standards for granting software patents. It seems like the Office may have slid too far down the slippery slope of determining what is true innovation worthy of protection and what is not.